Being able to put on a live show is a gift these days — always has been

January theater notes in the time of omicron

The Band’s Visit

I’m not a big fan of musicals, but “The Band’s Visit,” by Itamar Moses and David Yazbek, now at the Golden Gate Theatre after a long delayed opening, is sublime. Adapted from the movie, it’s a quiet and endearing story about a small Egyptian band that finds itself in the wrong Israeli village when it arrives for an invited concert. The way the various members of the band and the small-town Israelis interact during one long night is quietly engaging, both comic and poignant, and the Middle Eastern-themed music, seamlessly integrated into the story, is downright beautiful. Added bonus: the band leader is played by Sasson Gabay, the same actor who played the role in the movie.

Through Feb. 6 at Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St.

Swept Away

Omicron notwithstanding, a few other plays are scheduled live for the remainder of the month. (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is already in previews at the Curran — more about that next month.) Berkeley Repertory Theatre has a few things going on its multiple stages, most notably the new musical “Swept Away,” which has attracted national attention, based on music by the Avett Brothers, a folk-rock band. The Rep had a big success with “American Idiot,” with the music of Green Day, a few years ago, and that show’s director, Michael Mayer, is back with this new musical, which is in previews now.

Through March 6 at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley.

Freestyle Love Supreme

And as long as we’re talking about musicals, American Conservatory Theater is presenting “Freestyle Love Supreme,” which is the name of a hip-hop comedy musical group that creates improvised shows, of which that genius Lin-Manuel Miranda is a member. This particular show, improvised with audience interaction, recently closed on Broadway. The music “pays homage” to the great jazz improviser John Coltrane.

Jan. 21-Feb. 13 at ACT, 415 Geary St., S.F. $5 tickets still remain.

Word for Word

Some local theaters have not yet opened their doors but are streaming online, such as Exit Theatre and Word for Word, the latter which so elegantly stages literary works, mainly short stories, verbatim. You can listen to Word for Word podcasts: Anna Maria Ortese’s “A Pair of Eyeglasses,” translated and directed by Rotimi Agbabiaka (launched Jan. 13); and George Saunders’ “Home,” directed by Sheila Balter, starting Jan. 27. Both are available at for a year. Like the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Word for Word went the podcast route rather than recorded or live readings, but it must be said that part of the great joy of live attendance at these excellent companies is the inventive way the actors perform — in Word for Word’s case, often cleverly inhabiting inanimate objects. And we can only hope that the Mime Troupe, masters of physical comedy, will be back in the parks next summer.

Remote Theatre

And a shout-out to Giovanni Rodriguez’s Remote Theatre, which has been livestreaming plays, free, since the pandemic began, calling upon the best local theater artists to participate. This month’s program, in Remote’s partnership with The Marsh, comprises four short-short plays on the theme “Insurrection.” The quartet includes a particularly hilarious playlet by Tanya Shaffer. The others are by Michael Gene Sullivan, Eugenie Chan and Rodriguez himself. Jan. 22-23 and 29-30,

Cancellation and postponements

Meanwhile, the cancellations are coming in hot and heavy: “Company,” at South Bay Music Theatre,” postponed. Novato Theater Company’s “The Who’s Tommy,” shut down. Shotgun Players’ workshop production of “Babes in Ho-lland,” cancelled. New Conservatory’s “Dot,” by Colman Domingo, rescheduled for March. TheatreWorks’ production of “Chopin,” by playwright/actor/pianist Hershey Felder, now predicted for August. And Aurora Theatre’s world premiere of Jonathan Spector’s “This Much I Know,” now expected to appear in September instead of January. And so it goes…

Heroes of the Fourth Turning

But we can probably count on San Francisco Playhouse to open the award-winning “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” by Will Arbery, on schedule. It’s a drama in which a group of friends gather for a soul-searching conversation shortly after a white supremacist riot. SF Playhouse’s Susi Damilano, who’s in the cast, says that she and artistic director Bill English have regular discussions — it’s all about audience safety, because most of the cast of this show has already had Covid and the cast is given three antigen Covid tests a week — but, she confesses, the uncertainty is wearing them down. “And we don’t want to go broke!” The company’s most recent show, a musical version of “Twelfth Night” was a big success but was forced to take a one-week hiatus during Christmas week due to lack of understudies to cover actors who got sick. Damilano hopes it can be remounted in a year. Being able to put on a live show is a gift these days—always has been.

Jan. 26-March 5 at SF Playhouse, 450 Post St., S.F.

So far, February is looking hopeful. Stay tuned.

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